The Hari Putar Dialogues - 35
(BBC News; 9 December: Dhaka: A life-size replica of the Taj Mahal, often described as the world's most beautiful building, is due to open for visitors in Bangladesh. The replica has been built by a Bangladeshi filmmaker. Ahsanullah Moni said he wanted his countrymen to experience the beauty of the Indian monument even if they were too poor to travel to see the original. The 17th Century Taj was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb for his beloved queen, Mumtaz Mahal. The emperor is buried next to his queen in the monument in the northern Indian city of Agra, which is visited by millions every year. The $58m ('39m) replica has been built in Sonargaon, a small town in the Bangladeshi countryside. Mr Moni, who is a successful director of Bangladeshi films, says he hopes his replica, which has been built an hour's drive from the capital Dhaka, will also attract foreign visitors.)
Putar: According to a report on the BBC News website there is a proposal to build a duplicate Taj Mahal in Bangladesh.
Hari: I haven't read the report, Putar. Is this the Government that's building this?
Putar: No, Papaji. It's being built by Mr Moni a successful film director of Bangladeshi films.
Hari: Is it going to look anything like the real Taj?
Putar: That's the idea. Mr Moni says he has imported marble and granite from Italy and diamonds from Belgium. Architects were sent to India to copy the dimensions of the original. Work on the surrounding grounds and ponds has still not been completed.
Hari: What is the purpose of this whole exercise?
Putar: The purpose according to Mr Moni is to allow those Bangladeshis who cannot afford to go to India to see the Taj at home.
Hari: That's the avowed purpose. At the same time Mr Moni may also want to make money. He is investing a great deal. Could it also be a tourist attraction?
Putar: That's what he hopes. It's being built in the countryside, but it's not far from Dacca.
Hari: I wonder if it makes financial sense to try and duplicate monuments. It's different to have Disneylands in many places, because you can have the same games for children in different places but it's different to try and recreate a piece of history. Local tourists may be interested but I'm not so sure how many foreign tourists would be interested.
Putar: The foreign tourists who are already in Dacca may decide to go since it is close by, but no one will fly down especially to see it. As far as the Taj Mahal in Agra is concerned it draws tourists from all over the world, just like the pyramids in Egypt do.
Hari: That's true. It makes more sense to duplicate something contemporary such as the London Eye for instance. This has already been planned in some places. But if someone were to try and create an Eiffel Tower in Delhi, it would feel a bit ridiculous.
Putar: In the case of Bangladesh, it's not so bad, because at least there is a connection. The Taj Mahal can be seen as a piece of shared history.
Hari: Well, yes, but would someone in Bangladesh try to recreate a monument from ancient Indian history?
Putar: Unlikely, for many reasons. For one it simply wouldn't carry the same commercial value. Mr Moni is a film director. He probably thinks that this new Taj Mahal can be used for the making of a film, by himself or others.
Hari: That's always possible of course. Even Indian directors may decide to shoot their films there, since in Agra no one is likely to get permission. There is a romance about the history of the original Taj Mahal. With an imitation monument there are no legends or poetry.
Putar: Not even poetry of anguish against it.
Hari: What do you mean?
Putar: For instance: 'Ek shahenshah ney bana kar Taj Mahal, Hum garibon ki mohabat ka udaya hai mazak'. By building the Taj Mahal an emperor has mocked the romances of poor people.
Hari: And what of the poor as far as this new project is concerned?
Putar: Well, I guess the garib (the poor) are still involved in the construction of this new Taj. According to the report, it took 20 years and 20,000 workers to build the original Taj. Thanks to modern technology, construction of Mr Moni's Taj has taken five years and fewer people.
Hari: In the case of the original, there is a story that some of the artists had their hands chopped off.
Putar: What was the idea behind that?
Hari: So that they could not collaborate in building a duplicate.
Putar: But a duplicate is still being attempted thousands of years later, so I guess the Emperor did not succeed.
Hari: In that particular poem you recited the poet wished to say that the Emperor built a palace or mahal in memory of his beloved wife, which a poor person can ill afford to do for his beloved.
Putar: I suppose someone could say in this instance: 'Ek film director ney bana kar Taj Mahal, Atihas ka udaya hai mazak' In other words he has mocked history.
Hari: It remains to be seen if this will start a new trend of imitation monuments. The Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Eiffel Tower and so on and forth. Certain countries may object if they feel that their history is being mocked or appropriated.
Putar: Or their people may feel flattered. Tell me something, Papaji.
Hari: Bol, Putar?
Putar: An ancient monument such as the Taj Mahal has a certain magic about it that contemporary buildings lack. Would you agree?
Hari: I guess so.
Putar: And classical music, whether Eastern or Western has a beauty that contemporary music cannot match.
Hari: That is also probably true.
Putar: And in modern times we don't seem to have great thinkers like Socrates and Aristotle.
Hari: Definitely so.
Putar: So would it be true to say that civilization is going backwards instead of forwards?
Hari: I don't know, Putar.